5 reasons Germany will beat Spain at the World Cup
Germany could use a positive result against Spain in 2022 World Cup Group E. Just as well Hansi Flick's team have some of the Bundesliga's finest to help them realise their objective...
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1) Mighty Manuel Neuer
Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas hadn't played a competitive match of football in 162 days, over five months, when he took to the field against Spain on Wednesday, and suffice to say it showed. The 35-year-old can hardly be blamed for all seven goals, but his lack of playing time this season – he hasn't featured for a single minute at Paris Saint-Germain, where Gianluigi Donnarumma is now the undisputed No.1 – left the three-time Champions League winner looking unusually rusty, and Spain took full advantage.
Germany have no such worries with Neuer. The man who has redefined his position remains very much the top dog for club and country, even at 36. He has missed a handful of games with injury this season, but when fit, the Bayern Munich and Germany No.1 is quite literally the first name on the teamsheet. He has kept seven clean sheets in 16 club games this season and remains one of the fiercest competitors in the game.
One of his career-defining performances came at the World Cup in 2014: a sweeper-keeper showing for the ages against Algeria. Germany went on to lift the trophy, with Neuer keeping a clean sheet in the final, and eight years on he is still an integral part of their setup. Even in Wednesday's 2-1 loss to Japan, he made a sensational save to keep out an effort from Junya Ito when Flick's side were still 1-0 up.
"We lost because of inadequate defending and not taking our chances," he said afterwards. "With better passing and more confidence, it would have been a different outcome." Germany are going to need something special to beat Spain on Sunday, so don't be surprised to see the influential Neuer leading their charge from the back.
2) Magic Musiala
"We have the quality to beat Spain," Flick insisted in his post-game press conference, and one of the positives he will take away from the Japan match was a highly impressive display from Jamal Musiala. The Bayern teenager is only 19, but looked very much at home on football's biggest stage – just as Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham did in England's 6-2 victory over Iran earlier this week.
As well as demonstrating his deft footwork and ability to play in tight pockets of space – which will be crucial against a technically gifted Spain team – Musiala almost marked his World Cup debut with one of the goals of the tournament. Picking up the ball from RB Leipzig's David Raum on the corner of the Japan area, he dribbled past four defenders as he slalomed his way towards the penalty spot, but unfortunately blasted his shot high over the bar. It came during a sustained period of pressure in which Germany twice hit the woodwork through Serge Gnabry and Ilkay Gündogan, but ultimately failed to increase their advantage.
Watch: Jamal Musiala under the tactical microscope
"We created some good chances, but unfortunately we didn't take them," Flick acknowledged. Happily, Musiala has made a habit of making and taking chances in the Bundesliga this season, with nine goals and six assists in just 14 appearances. Bayern's teen sensation could be the key to unlocking Spain's defence and getting Germany back on track.
3) The Bayern block
Speaking of Bayern, they provided no fewer than five starters and one substitute against Japan, while Flick guided the record Bundesliga champions to seven trophies in under two years at the helm before joining Germany. He will now be hoping the Säbener Straße connection can inspire his troops to victory, just as it did when six Bayern players started the World Cup final against Argentina in 2014, and Bayern substitute Mario Götze scored the winner.
The Bavarians have netted a whopping 49 goals in 15 Bundesliga outings in 2022/23, averaging over three per game. Musiala (9), Gnabry (8) and Leroy Sane (5) have accounted for almost half of them, while Musiala also has six assists, followed by Thomas Müller, Gnabry, Sane and Joshua Kimmich on three. Flick's men have shown they can create the opportunities – they had 25 shots against Japan, after all – and it will just be a question of converting them more clinically against the Spanish.
"We played well for long stretches of the game," said Müller, who has had his fair share of ups and downs at the World Cup since scoring on his tournament debut against Australia in 2010. "It's crazy to be sat here having just lost, but we only have ourselves to blame for our lack of efficiency. We will almost definitely need a win against Spain." Luckily, Mr. Bayern and his club teammates are not ones to shy away from a challenge…
4) Messrs Füllkrug, Hofmann, Götze: Flick's top-level alternatives
Flick could shuffle his pack in a bid to return to winning ways. Ex-Bayer Leverkusen youngster Havertz started in a false nine role against Japan, but Niclas Füllkrug - the only dyed-in-the-wool centre-forward in the squad - is pushing for inclusion at Al Bayt Stadium.
The Werder Bremen talisman is the top-scoring German in this season's Bundesliga, with 10 goals across 14 appearances, including three headed efforts befitting his fox-in-the-box reputation. The 29-year-old also comes complete with a never-say-die attitude that has translated into five strikes on or after the 85th minute, while three successful spot-kicks speak of an exceedingly cool customer. He even marked his senior international debut with the winner in a warm-up match against Oman on the eve of the finals.
"'Fülle' can be important for the national team, just like he is for us," opined Bremen defender Niklas Stark of the Bundesliga's second most trigger-happy player this term (46 goal attempts). "There are outstanding technical players [ahead of him], but if you want to play with a classic nine, I don't think there's anyone better."
Jonas Hofmann is another player on the fringes of the Germany starting line-up, capable of outshining the very best of them on his day. The Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder registered a goal and two assists on UEFA Nations League duty, and rocked up at the finals with four goals and five assists to show for his last seven outings in the Bundesliga.
Hofmann has been one of the real winners of Flick's appointment, earning 13 of his 18 caps under the ex-Bayern strategist - on the right-hand side of attack and in a less familiar right-back role. Given the opportunity, the former Dortmund and Mainz man - who had a direct hand in a career-best 17 Bundesliga goals last season - could give 33-year-old Spain left-back Jordi Alba a real run for his money.
And what a story it would be if Götze proves to be Germany's Get Out of Jail Free card. The 2014 World Cup-winning super sub has been through the wringer down the years, but has overcome fitness issues and a metabolic disorder to rediscover some of his best form.
Götze has started all but three of 24 competitive matches for Eintracht Frankfurt so far this season, having joined the UEFA Europa League holders on the back of a career-rebuilding stint at PSV Eindhoven. His reward was a Germany recall, some five years after his last appearance for his country.
"We all know that Mario is a top footballer, who has flashes of brilliance," Flick said of the five-time Bundesliga winner, whose two goals, four assists and instinctive passes-before-the-pass have helped take Frankfurt up to fourth in the domestic standings and through to the Champions League knockouts. "You can see it in every game: he's in top condition, he can play 90 minutes even three times a week."
The Germany coach handed Götze an 11-minute cameo against Japan and will surely be keeping a close eye on his performances in training, knowing first-hand he only needs a moment to work his world-beating magic.
Watch: Mario Götze - back to his best
5) Moukoko's moment?
Götze was just 22 years of age when he became Germany's unexpected World Cup hero in 2014, but an even younger player could end up saving Flick's side from an early exit in 2022. Musiala isn't the only teenage star in the squad, with 18-year-old Dortmund striker Youssoufa Moukoko also showing he has what it takes to shine at the highest level.
The Yaoundé-born starlet has always been ahead of the curve. After breaking scoring records for fun during his time in the BVB youth teams, he made his first-team debut in November 2020, the day after turning 16. Fast forward two years and he has become a key cog in Dortmund's attacking machine, with six goals and three assists in the Bundesliga this term. That ruthlessness in the final third was what convinced Flick to bring him to the World Cup.
"He's only young, but I'm really happy with the way he's giving everything in training," the Germany boss said after handing Moukoko his first senior start against Oman just before the tournament. "Everything is spot on. Let's give him the time he needs; we really want to support him."
When he came on in the final minutes against Japan, Moukoko became the youngest ever Germany player to appear at the World Cup finals, at 18 years and three days old. He is not yet vying for a starting berth in Flick's lineup, but as one of the squad's rare natural strikers he should get an opportunity to put his teenage stamp on the tournament, just as Kylian Mbappe did for France four years ago. Admittedly, Spain have classy youngsters of their own in midfield duo Pedri and Gavi, but Moukoko has already demonstrated his game-changing abilities for Dortmund.
Germany may be down, but with some of the world-class talent at their disposal, they're certainly not out just yet.
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